Saturday, January 3, 2009

Applying makeup

In my last post, I mentioned that I'd be stitching the women's faces first as I begin the "Nippon Textures" canvas by Gail Hendrix. It's a purely practical approach for a needlepointer to stitch white and lighter color areas first, so darker threads adjacent to these areas don't rear their ugly heads on the surface of the canvas later. But after doing a little research last night, I discovered I was also perpetuating an age-old ritual.

Geishas of the Edo period in Japan were a far cry from our modern-day "escort service" personnel. They were, first and foremost, entertainers: highly trained professionals who sometimes served as apprentices for as long as five years learning how to play several musical instruments and performing ancient tea ceremonies. The first step in preparing for an evening's entertainment was applying very elaborate make-up.

The foundation of this make-up was a thick, white paste, which required several hours to dry. It also contained a significant amount of lead, and was eventually replaced by rice powder when modern science discovered the inherent health hazard of this ingredient. The eyes were accentuated by charcoal and the lips were tinted with red. The "make-up" for the ladies in this canvas was stitched in basketweave, using four plies of DMC cotton floss in Blanc for the faces, #310 for the eyes, #817 for the lips, and #317 for the outlining.

The price of a kimono even at that time was incredibly expensive, so the women had to wait until the make-up was completely dry--heaven forbid some of that white goop would accidentally drop on the kimono. So now that the make-up has been stitched, I was able to move on to the garments themselves and indulge in lovely bright colors!

The title of the canvas itself suggests that texture should play an important part in interpreting the design, but achieving texture in such small areas to be stitched posed a challenge. Most of the areas didn't allow for decorative stitches, so I chose to use different types of thread to provide my texture. I also wanted to draw on my current stash of thread as much as possible, and luckily, as a designer myself, my stash is significant!

I've started to stitch in the three areas of red--a wonderfully cheerful color on a snowy winter day! I began with the knot of the obi worn by the center geisha, using Petite Very Velvet in basketweave. The center of that knot will get the same treatment when I'm finished with the white. Moving on to the geisha on the right, I used the same thread, again in basketweave, to stitch the background of her kimono. Then I stitched the collar of the third geisha in Trio's "Really Red." It's fascinating to see how effective this triangular placement of color on the canvas is in separating yet unifying the three women at the same time!

I plan to continue stitching different areas of the canvas in this fashion, applying a layer of a different color family as I go along. Approaching a canvas this way is a far cry from what I normally do--I'm your typical "start at the top right and work down to the bottom left" kind of stitcher. But I was so struck by the role color plays in the canvas, I'm hoping you will be, too, as you follow my progress.


g said...

Anne...what research...I am impressed...I love little tid bits of history...I would like to say i knew all about the make-up appication...I knew some, but not all...very have made my day...

g said...


Possibilities, Etc. said...

I'm loving this, as I read with relish a few years ago "Memoirs of a Geisha." Not only a great novel, but splendid learning experience that led me to more research.

Miss 376 said...

This would be an interesting project to follow on it's own, but the background information really adds to it. Thank you

Jan said...

This is wonderful. I love the understated elegance of the stitching and the history you've shared. I hadn't noticed the little nuances of triples until you pointed it out - three ladies and three areas of red. Looking forward to more.

Edy/Grandma said...

I love how your approach and that of Jane's differ. I will follow this piece eagerly, and then perhaps try a painted canvas or two. I've been mostly a counted ground person for a long time that a painted design might be a welcome change.